One of the lessons of the massive protest which followed Sharon’s war in Lebanon appeared to be that it is no longer possible to drag the Israeli people into wars of choice. But Barak has managed where Sharon failed – He convinced at least the center third of the Israelis that peace with the Arab world is impossible and the next war will be a no-choice war over Israel’s mere existence. The one who is able to carry out Sharon’s vision is Barak.
Barak’s election campaign focuses on the horrors of Sharon. Now, those who vote Sharon will know exactly who they vote for. But who would the Barak voters vote for? Is it for Dr. Jekyll who, as we repeatedly hear, is the most far reaching Israeli prime minister ever, in his willingness for concessions for peace? Or is it for Mr. Hyde who has recently instructed the Israeli army to “shake out the dust from every corner to complete preparations” for war, and sent his special units to assassinate Palestinian political leaders?
Never before has the Israeli society received so many conflicting signals at one and the same week or day. This is one of the reasons for the feeling of confusion and despair that so many Israelis experience.
How can these conflicting messages be explained? A prevailing account in the Israeli media is in terms of psychological incidence: Barak is a complicated and difficult person, non- communicative, and slightly unstable. Hence there is a certain degree of arbitrariness in his actions and words. (Miraculously, this account is supposed to help us vote for him.)
But when crucial decisions are to be based on what appears to be conflicting data, it is helpful to search beyond just the incidence account and look for an explanation that may reconcile the apparent contradictions.
Sharon’s ‘vision’ is that one should never give up the state’s lebensraum lands: ‘We won’t ever leave the Golan Heights’ and in the West Bank and Gaza strip, the Palestinian inhabitants should be restricted to secluded autonomous enclaves, an arrangement that leaves about 50% of the land free for Israel’s use. (In other words, the current situation in the territories, which was created over the years in cooperation between Labor and Sharon, should be preserved as is, though in Sharon’s present plan, the name ‘Palestinian state’ would be allowed for the enclaves, replacing his original ‘autonomy’.)
Barak – Sharon’s disciple and former subordinate – was raised on this vision. But he also understood that this can no longer be achieved in Sharon’s way. One of the lessons of Sharon’s war in Lebanon was that it is no longer possible to drag the Israeli people into wars of choice. The unprecedented protest at the time, which continued in the years of the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, made it clear that the Israeli society is tired of wars. Did Barak decide to renounce Sharon’s vision, or did he decide that another way needs to be found to fulfill it? We have no way to know what Barak decided, but we can certainly examine what he actually did.
At the beginning of his cadence, Barak announced a sweeping initiative of peace with Syria. The text surrounding this initiative happened to be identical to what we hear today: No Israeli leader has ever offered such radical concessions as Barak did: withdrawal from all the Golan Heights! Evacuation of all settlements!. There was only one issue left – the Kineret coast, which is the heart and the essence of the Israeli being. Assad, who was given everything already, was not willing to yield even on this one single issue. That’s how it is with Arabs – explained the text -Whatever you give them, they always want more. Hence, we won’t leave the Golan Heights, and we must be prepared for the option of a no-choice war with Syria.
Now this text repeats with the Palestinians: No one has offered as many concessions as Barak: 90-95% of the territories! Division of Jerusalem! Future evacuation of settlements that will not be annexed!. But, again, after we gave Arafat everything, he is not willing even to contribute the gesture of publicly renouncing the Palestinian claim on the Haram el-Sharif-Temple Mount site, and the right of return. Hence we have no choice but fencing the Palestinians in their enclaves, properly separating them from us, freezing the land situation as is (with some necessary ‘security expansions’ of the Israeli areas). And there is no choice but to shake the dust and be prepared for a comprehensive war over the holy sites of Judaism.
This is Barak’s text, which accompanies us day and night, like a mantra, and shapes the collective perception of reality: Barak’s generosity versus Arab rejectionism. But in fact, there is nothing further than reality.
In the case of Syria, the official documentation of the negotiations, in the Shepherdstown document, directly falsifies the claims concerning Barak’s concessions. Israel insisted that only military forces will be moved, but not civilians. That is, not a single settlement will be evacuated (Haaretz, 13.1.00). Contrary to the public perception of the events, Barak has not offered anything like returning the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty. (1)
In the case of the Palestinians, there is just no formal documentation whatsoever of what Barak actually offered, and certainly no list or designated dates for dismantling even a single tiny settlement, say the 400 settlers of Hebron who are ruining the life of a whole city. The only data is the text on Barak’s generosity.(2) In practice, Barak has not offered the Palestinians anything that Sharon wouldn’t, but, as with Syria, he managed to create the impression that the Palestinians would not settle for anything.
It is scary to observe how successful this text is: Those who believe the lies about Barak’s concessions despair of the chance of Peace. Since 1993 there was a constant majority of 60% in the polls for ‘lands for peace’, including dismantling of settlements. (As for the Golan Heights – in 1999, 60% of the Jewish Israelis supported dismantling of ALL settlements). Now the support for peace with concessions dropped in the polls to 30%, on both the Syrian and the Palestinian front. Barak has managed where Sharon failed – He convinced at least the middle third of the Israelis that peace with the Arab world is impossible, and the next war will be a no-choice war over our mere existence.
Barak and Sharon want the same thing. The only difference is that for Sharon, it would be harder to fulfill his wish. As much as he will talk about peace, no one will believe him, in Israel or in the world, that his war is a no-choice war. The one who is able to carry out Sharon’s vision is Barak.
1) For a detailed survey of the negotiations with Syria and the Shepherdstown document, see Reinhart and Katriel ‘How Barak failed the peace with Syria’
(2) E.g. Aluf Benn reports that “According to a diplomatic source, the Barak government has not formulated a plan to evacuate isolated settlements in the framework of a unilateral separation or an agreement with the Palestinians. “There is no list of settlements intended for evacuation,” the source said, adding that only general models regarding the future of the settlements had been discussed: they will remain, will be moved into the blocs or will be evacuated. The meanings of the various alternatives have been examined, but no map or evacuation plan has been drafted. “No one dealt with a plan for physical evacuation and no one will take a chance on dealing with it. We dealt only with blocs that will be annexed to Israel” the senior source said.” (Aluf Benn, Ha’aretz, Jan 15).
* Tanya Reinhart is a professor in Tel Aviv University